Gary Clouse has lost track of the number of times he’s worked at the Bassmaster Classic or a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament.
Such opportunities avail themselves to the president and founder of Phoenix Boats, a member of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, and a man considered a genuine trailblazer in the business of outdoors recreation.
Clouse is all of those things, but building that resume through the years definitely prevented him from devoting himself fully to competing in the upper echelon of B.A.S.S. tournaments.
Clouse is part of the 75-man field that will face off on nine of the finest bass fisheries in the U.S. during the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series. He earned entry into the circuit after placing 18th in the 2018 Bassmaster Central Opens points race.
That was Clouse’s highest showing in the rankings since he began entering tournaments in multiple Bassmaster Open divisions in 2010, and the performance gave new life to his dream of reaching the Bassmaster Classic.
As an angler, of course, not a businessman.
“That’s always been the ultimate goal, to be in the Classic,” Clouse said. “And I don’t want to be there with a phone in my hand. I want to be there fishing.”
Clouse, 59, will have to perform well during his rookie season on the Elite Series to reach the Classic in 2020, but he isn’t fazed by the premise. He has, after all, spent more than 30 years doing business with some of the finest anglers the sport has ever known, and while that’s not the same as going head to head in competition with them, the Phoenix Boats CEO has full confidence in his fishing skills
“I’ve never been intimidated being around (fishing legends), but I do have full respect for them,” Clouse said. “A guy like (fellow Elite Series angler) Rick Clunn, like Larry Nixon; those are my heroes.”
Clouse grew up in rural Missouri and even at an early age, he was connected to professional bass fishing. Gene Watson, a family friend who also was a competitor in the very first B.A.S.S. tournament (the All-American on Arkansas’ Beaver Lake in 1967) had a boat and would take Clouse fishing on farm ponds in the area.
Clouse fell in love with the sport and wanted more. By the time he was 14, his bedroom walls were covered with pages he tore from Bassmaster Magazine. A year or two later, he was entering local tournaments regularly, and he competed as a pro for the first time when he was 22.
But as important as bass angling was to Clouse, his interest in boats was equally keen. One of his first jobs was at a small boat store in Branson, Mo., and before long, he found himself in Nashville, Tenn., working for Stratos Boats. He gained a wealth of manufacturing experience there and eventually was hired by Triton when Stratos changed ownership. Six years later, Clouse was reunited with Stratos — the company that initially lured him to the Volunteer State.
He still resides in Winchester, Tenn., which also is worldwide headquarters for Phoenix Boats.
Though business dealings began to consume more of his schedule, Clouse saved time for tournament pursuits, though likely not as often as he’d like. He’s competed in 80 B.A.S.S.-sanctioned events through the years, dating back to the 1981 Missouri Invitational West on Lake of the Ozarks. He finished in the money in 28 B.A.S.S. tournaments, including a pair of second-place finishes in 2006 on Lake Eufaula in Alabama and Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee.
“That was the year I finished second in everything I entered,” Clouse said with a laugh. “I think there was a second-place finish in an FLW event that year too.”
Though there was no victory to show for that hot streak, those tournaments spurred Clouse into various Bassmaster Opens in 2010. His best showing since then was an eighth-place finish in the Bassmaster Classic Wild Card on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee in 2013, and the Elite Series beckoned last fall after he finished 75th, 27th, 10th and 28th in respective Central Opens on Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi, the Arkansas River in Oklahoma, the Red River in Louisiana and Logan Martin Lake in Alabama.
Clouse said readying for the Elite Series has kept him extremely busy, and that’s saying something for a guy that runs a company such as Phoenix.
“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “I’ve been preparing in my shop for months getting all the new stuff ready — the rods, the line, the reels. Then the back-to-back tournaments make you prepare for two vastly different places at once. It’s work just to get there, and once you do, you still have to catch fish.”
Clouse isn’t complaining, rather he’s thrilled to be competing full-time this year. As for Phoenix, Clouse said the company will be in “great hands” while he’s touring America as an Elite angler.
“It’s the people at the company,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them, I simply wouldn’t be able to do this.”
Clouse only has one sponsor (Phoenix, of course,) and rather than accept gear from other companies, he’s doing all the shopping for everything he suspects he’ll need on tour.
It’s a labor of love, at least most of the time.
“This isn’t something I have to do,” he said. “It’s something I want to do. But it can be frustrating. It’s like the golfer who loves golf, but wants to throw the clubs in the water sometimes.”
Clouse said he doesn’t suffer a hot temper, and in fact, he credits his willingness to be less “stubborn” on the water in 2018 as a reason why the season was successful.
“I always said my favorite way to fish is however I caught them last,” Clouse said. “I’ve been at this long enough that you have to take a look at where you’re at and what you’re presented and do what the percentages tell you.”
And if he can do that, Clouse likes his odds to be competing for his sport’s ultimate prize next year.
“It’s all very simple,” Clouse said. “Just qualify for the Classic. That’s the goal.”